51. Voodoo

Voodoo- D’Angelo (2000)

86.2

How: I came upon D’Angelo the way most of his fans did: his provocative, sensual, and unmatched music video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel?)” Beyond what was a masterpiece of isolation and the human body, the video made D’Angelo an overnight sexual icon, the worst possible identity for a talented recluse to embody. D’Angelo dropped out of the spotlight after touring for his masterpiece Voodoo, and only this year has he resurfaced for a limited press tour. Voodoo is a testament to the fleeting nature of success, even success that is well deserved, and I missed all of it, because I had no idea who I consider to be the most talented male singer of the 90s existed until early last year.

Why: The past 25 years have seen very talented female solo artists, singers that could rival the greatest pipes ever put to tape, while also experiencing a curious dearth of strong male singers. D’Angelo bucked the trend with his sultry, charismatic, and often incomprehensible wail. His singing is as effortless as it is magnificent, as dirty as it is angelic, as untouchable as it is universally desired, and that comprises only half of D’Angelo the musician.

The other half is a professor of soul, and Voodoo is the professor’s manifesto of 20th century black American music. The album compiles the best pickings of soul, blues, hip-hop, roots, and nearly every other style with black fingerprints on the keys. At 75 minutes, the project was a massive undertaking, even during the late 90s when double albums became commonplace in the rap community, and each one of the thirteen tracks flawlessly educates the listener about how music used to sound (and, according to D’Angelo, how it should sound today).

Each track except for the aforementioned “Untitled” was recorded on a single track with no overdub or production effects, making the album’s occasionally sloppy perfection even more impressive. D’Angelo’s voice never outshines his band, allowing for some of the most talented studio musicians to contribute their knowledge to the project. Every lick and riff is instantly enjoyable and replayable, and on many occasions it sounds as if producer/drummer ?uestlove and the rest of the crew are playing the best they have ever played. In short, the stars aligned for Voodoo, and on paper D’Angelo crafted a celebrated piece of perfection.

BUT, to repurpose a sports analogy, music isn’t played on paper. The album isn’t perfect as its ingredients might suggest. I have little problem with the album being 75 minutes long (thought that far outstretches modern attention spans), but I do find the 75 minutes stretched over only thirteen songs a bit tiresome. One could argue that 1-2 minutes could have been cut off from each song, and that’s a difficult sell to one of the most talented artists I’ve ever heard. The album also takes four songs and nearly twenty minutes to warm up to game shape, an eternity considering how slow D’Angelo likes his jams anyway. From “The Line” on, however, his ship sails smoothly.

“Send it On,” is the album’s only cover and its most heartfelt vocal performance. “The Line,” “One Mo’ Gin,” and “The Root” feel  fresh despite the influence so nonchalantly dropped into the lifeblood of D’Angelo’s melody. Towards the end of the album, “Feel Like Makin’ Love” displays textbook brass breaks, and the penultimate and onerous untitled track provides the unquestionable climax for an album that peaks half a dozen times along the way. Every song, except for the misfired “Spanish Joint” and the boring “Devil’s Pie,” bathes in a shower of cognac, heartbreak, and talent.

D’Angelo and Lauryn Hill were trailblazers for the neo-soul movement, and whereas The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (which comes much later on this list) shines the spotlight on Miss Hill’s stratospheric talents, Voodoo succeeds in a team effort, disappointing the listener wanted and expecting more of D’Angelo’s majesty. His masterpiece merits study, especially for those interested in how black musicians invented modern American music (while simultaneously receiving little credit for doing so), but it doesn’t quite stand up with everything else on my radar. It is by far my favorite disappointing album.

Next WeekOn and On by Jack Johnson (2003)

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